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A wish for a new year, Village Square style…

A wish for 2013, from Dr. Jonathan Haidt’s must-read book The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion.

“When I was a teenager I wished for world peace, but now I yearn for a world in which competing ideologies are kept in balance, systems of accountability keep us all from getting away with too much, and fewer people believe that righteous ends justify violent means. Not a very romantic wish, but one that we might actually achieve.”

It’s what we’ll be working hard on this year at The Village Square and with our new project The Asteroids Club.

(Photo credit)



Dr. Jonathan Haidt on Bill Moyers

Were there such a thing as Village Square homework (and there should be), this would be it. Conservatives, be sure to hang in for the whole the discussion; Dr. Haidt’s work is extremely validating of a conservative world view (and in a way that will help liberals understand you better, how much better does it get than that…) We believe Dr. Haidt is doing some of the most important work of our time. So get a bowl of popcorn and set aside 45 minutes. You won’t be sorry.



New York Times: The Gulf of Morality

Thomas Edsall writes in Sunday’s New York Times about the wide differences in the moral views of liberals and conservatives and the worrisome tendency of each to assess the others’ morality as lacking.

Edsall points out that the focus on morality as the dividing line in political discourse, when everything is essentially a matter of good vs. evil, makes it pretty hard to manage pragmatic thinking on topics that require real world solutions:

“The intensification of disagreements over moral values not only makes compromise difficult to achieve, but sharpens competition for scarce goods at a time when austerity dominates the agenda. If, as is increasingly the case, left and right see their opposites as morally corrupt, the decision to cut the benefits or raise the taxes of the other side become easy – too easy — to justify.”

Edsall refers to the research of Dr. Jon Haidt of University of Virginia, who did a Skype interview last spring for our Polarization & Demonization dinner program featuring UVa’s Matt Motyl. If you haven’t before, Haidt’s work is important and worth a read. Also worth reading are the John Hawkins and George Lakoff pieces, on conservative and liberal morality respectively, linked at the top of the Edsall article that paint a pretty dim picture of our view of each other and portend much more trouble ahead.

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Photo credit: DonkeyHotey.
Thanks to Peter for sending the article



Fareed Zakaria: Narrowcasting

THIS CNN VIDEO is well worth a watch. As much as we read up on political division, he mentions factors new to us. If you’re a Tea Party devotee, please watch past his initial premise as he develops it intelligently.



Psychology of Polarization & Demonization



Going to extremes, round and round and round

I’m reading Going to Extremes: How Like Minds United and Divide by Cass Sunstein. Sunstein has – quite ironically given the nature of Sunstein’s academic work – been charged by such disparate bedfellows as Glenn Beck and Glenn Greenwald with being an extremist. Doubly ironic is that much of the rhetoric against Sunstein by Beck – considered by a whole lot of people to be pretty seriously extreme himself – is pretty well described by Sunstein in his writings. Like this:

“The most important reason for group polarization, and a key to extremism in all its forms, involves the exchange of new information. Group polarization often occurs because people are telling one another what they know, and what they know is skewed in a predictable direction.”

Hard to draw conclusions about who out extremes who in this melee of accusation. Like falling down a rabbit hole.



What do you think: More brain, less gut?

“The right can bellow from the gut. They hate government and the taxes necessary to pay for it. They don’t even have to think about it. The left can also bellow from the gut. They don’t like big business, they love activist government. They can call for more government and the taxes to pay for it without shame. It’s not so easy when you’re a liberal president trying to lead a centrist country in a difficult time. It’s not so easy following your gut when your brain warns you that this is precisely what everyone else in the country is doing: Yelling from their gut and calling people names.” –Chris Matthews, Hardball last night



Half right isn’t good enough

As part of a story on Nevada politics (and not the central point of the story), last night Rachel Maddow commented on Republican Sharon Angle’s advertising campaign against Democratic Senate Leader Harry Reid. “His opponent had a ton of money. She used that money to blanket the state with brutal over-the-top ads accusing Harry Reid of everything short of murder, and she only just stopped short of that.”

This is absolutely and completely true.

Uh, half true.

Here is an Angle accusing Reid of paying for Viagra for sex offenders:

But what Rachel failed to mention was that Reid was responsible for an ad accusing Angle of siding with domestic abusers over the women they abuse:

If we’re going to call people out for bad behavior, we need to call them out consistently rather than only when they’re on the opposite site of the aisle. If we don’t, we continue to misinform the half of the American population on our side of the aisle and fuel the fury making it awfully hard to have a real conversation.



“Backfire” explains a lot.

Joe Keohane writes a powerful piece on how our entrenched political opinion resists fact that contradicts it. Here’s a snip of an article that’s just so good that it’s going straight into the Village Square library, but we’d strongly recommend you head straight to Boston.com and read the whole piece.

Recently, a few political scientists have begun to discover a human tendency deeply discouraging to anyone with faith in the power of information. It’s this: Facts don’t necessarily have the power to change our minds. In fact, quite the opposite. In a series of studies in 2005 and 2006, researchers at the University of Michigan found that when misinformed people, particularly political partisans, were exposed to corrected facts in news stories, they rarely changed their minds. In fact, they often became even more strongly set in their beliefs. Facts, they found, were not curing misinformation. Like an underpowered antibiotic, facts could actually make misinformation even stronger.

This bodes ill for a democracy, because most voters – the people making decisions about how the country runs – aren’t blank slates. They already have beliefs, and a set of facts lodged in their minds. The problem is that sometimes the things they think they know are objectively, provably false. And in the presence of the correct information, such people react very, very differently than the merely uninformed. Instead of changing their minds to reflect the correct information, they can entrench themselves even deeper.

The general idea is that it’s absolutely threatening to admit you’re wrong, says political scientist Brendan Nyhan, the lead researcher on the Michigan study. The phenomenon – known as “backfire” – is “a natural defense mechanism to avoid that cognitive dissonance.”

Read the rest of the article HERE.